Integrated Service Learning Strategies for Student Engagement

Integrated Service Learning Strategies for Student Engagement

Sara L. Dodd, Holly E. Follmer-Reece, CiCi A. Nuñez, Kathryn L. Cude, Gloria C. Gonzales
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2208-0.ch007
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This chapter explores the synergies experienced when a required upper level undergraduate course (entitled Family in the Community) at a public research university adapted a service-learning model and directly connected students with serving community programs for youth. The experience of faculty and staff seeking to contribute to a university's strategic goals for transforming lives and communities through outreach and engaged scholarship is described and discussed. Service-learning pedagogy and practice at the subject university are reviewed before moving on to description and discussion of how the course structure and content was adapted to foster authentic engagement among students, community programs, and service recipients. Stakeholder experiences and perspectives are shared and explored, including the reflections of the service-learning students. The chapter closes with implications for integrated service learning as a tool for preparing students for meaningful and sustainable community engagement.
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I was not thrilled when our class was told that we had to complete a service learning assignment. I signed up for this course because it is a requirement for my degree, but I didn’t realize I had picked a service learning section. We had to do service activities with a leadership development program for kids that took place after school or in the evenings. The evening program was for kids from families that were participating in a temporary housing program for homeless people who have children (which I was shocked to know that there were so many families in my community dealing with homelessness). While I felt that it might be awkward and a waste of time, I signed up for the evening program with the kids from homeless families. I had no idea what to expect. I thought we would just be watching, but the program leaders made us feel comfortable and prepared. When the kids arrived, I expected them to be bored and not want to participate, but they got involved and wanted us to be involved, too.

We did an activity called Leader of the Pack. We got the kids to line up and pass a cup from front to back without turning around and looking at the person behind them. The person at the end of the line was the only one who could call out directions to keep the cup moving from one person to the next. The point of this activity was to show the kids that leading others is not always easy, and that good leaders are not always the ones up front.

Although we were with them for less than two hours each time, I felt like we built a relationship with all the kids. They opened up to us about things going on with their families or at school. Two sisters told us how they were moving to an apartment and how they were tired from packing and doing schoolwork. The second time I went, a group of brothers who were there the first time did not show up. We later found out that the mom come home from work and fell asleep and the kids did not want to wake her up to take them. The children wanted to come to the program but wouldn’t wake up their mom because they knew that she was tired. Through this service learning experience, I saw the reality that many children live in. I learned that no matter any child’s background, there is always a way the community can support parents who struggle but want to meet the needs of their kids.

The above vignette is a composite of written reflections collected from students enrolled in a service learning course (Family in the Community) at a large, public university in the southwestern United States. The vignette illuminates how a service learning experience can expose students to previously unknown communities or misunderstood community needs. Not only is a community need brought to students’ consciousness, it is brought to life in the faces, names, and lived experiences of the human beings in that community. Students see the nuance of need – the sisters who are weary of moving, the brothers who do not want to wake their tired mother – and an important reality: Unmet needs do not manifest themselves in the same way for each individual, family or community; moreover, there is more than one way to approach and address those needs. Students experience an invaluable context for applying course content (theory, public policy, and community programming), the university expands a critical knowledge base, and the community reaps an investment of new energy, ideas, and partners.

Family in the Community is an upper-level undergraduate course required for all majors in Human Development and Family Studies. Students are expected to complete Family in the Community towards the end of their degree as they prepare for field experiences (practica) or internships. This chapter explores the evolution of one course section of Family in the Community into a service learning format as a strategic response to the outreach and engaged scholarship priorities outlined by an institution of higher learning and its constituents (departments, faculty, students, and community partners). Chapter objectives are to:

  • Contextualize service learning within community and engaged scholarship at the subject university.

  • Briefly review service learning pedagogy and practice.

  • Describe the development and adaptation of an existing course offering to a service learning model (including learning outcomes and assessment).

  • Provide background and context for the community program utilized as the service partner for the course.

  • Share and discuss the experiences of stakeholders at various levels from the community and higher education.

  • Summarize lessons learned and implications for expanded service learning offerings as a tool for preparing students for authentic learning and engaged scholarship beyond the campus.

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